Despite a lot of recent upheavals where a deck dominates a weekend or two,
Modern remains a fairly open format. Even if each weekend one deck is
clearly the winner, over several weeks a bunch of different decks
successfully make their way to the top of the standings.
This is because every Modern deck has key flaws. No deck is the best deck
because everything is exploitable.
The best decks of the format make it difficult to identify and exploit
their flaws, but it isn’t impossible. Here’s the secrets on what really
makes those decks fold under pressure.
Weakness #1: Graveyard Hate
Wait, I’m here to provide useful insight. Let’s try again.
Weakness #2: No Creatures, No Life Totals
Modern Dredge lacks quite the explosive aspects of its Eternal format
predecessors. It leans on a few specific tools for its power. The recursive
power of Bloodghast and Prized Amalgam buries opponents trying to care
about its creatures, Conflagrate with Life from the Loam makes it
impossible for opponents who care about their creatures, and recently
Creeping Chill has made things extra difficult for opponents who care about
So the key is just to not worry about any of those. Just don’t play “normal
Magic” and it all works out. This is why there have been spikes in Amulet
Titan, Ironworks, and Prison over the last few weeks.
Sadly, once you sleeve up your deck there isn’t a ton you can do to impact
this. This is just a good indicator as to how much graveyard hate you need.
Weakness #1: Drawing First
There’s probably an entire extra article about this, but I think one thing
people are really bad at in Modern is adjusting their expectations whether
they’re on the play or on the draw.
Of all the decks in Modern, Tron is probably the worst at adjusting to
being on the draw. Its early plays are scripted and hard locked based on
the Magic basic rule of one land a turn. It also leans hard on Karn
Liberated, who is often game-ending on the play and often seven-mana
Vraska’s Contempt on the draw. It’s not like the deck has a lot of wiggle
room try for a better threat if it has Tron assembly in its opener, and
cutting too many threats in sideboarding can get problematic.
When playing against Tron, you should be the one making these adjustments.
On the play, you can keep slightly looser hands that properly pressure your
opponent as long as they fade a turn 4 Oblivion Stone or similar effect. On
the draw, you should be aggressively looking for better or more disruptive
draws and taking out more time-intensive cards like Liliana of the Veil.
You also must be proactive to punish this. Once Tron assembles Tron, it can
turn to its Ancient Stirrings and Sylvan Scrying to finding the right tool
to hammer a game home.
Weakness #2: Threat Specificity
Tron is extremely consistent at producing a threat, but as mentioned above
it’s not the best at choosing what that threat is if you don’t give it
As a Tron player, you shouldn’t be afraid to sideboard out threats that are
bad in a matchup. Beyond that, my best advice is to get lucky.
Playing against Tron, this often means avoiding gameplans that lose to Karn
Liberated. Going wide has been oddly successful against Tron despite their
many sweepers because it forces them to have one of their six or so
sweepers and their other threats. Going wide in a way that recurs through
Oblivion Stone is even more problematic.
You also must really watch decklist trends for Tron. Right now, the lists
are heavy on Relic of Progenitus and Thragtusk, light on secondary
sweepers. Go wide, avoid the graveyard.
- 4 Meddling Mage
- 4 Noble Hierarch
- 4 Phantasmal Image
- 4 Champion of the Parish
- 3 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
- 4 Mantis Rider
- 4 Reflector Mage
- 4 Thalia's Lieutenant
- 4 Kitesail Freebooter
- 2 Militia Bugler
Breadth of Issues
Humans is really good at combating opposing strategies. It has a ton of
interactive pieces for a deck that is 37 creatures and 23 mana sources. If
you try to do a thing, Humans can probably stop it. Even the million
removal spell deck folds if they start copying Sin Collectors.
The trick is making them juggle multiple things. Almost all their
interactive effects depend on the creature remaining on the battlefield. If
their Meddling Mage naming Terminus gets hit by Path to Exile, that’s an
opening. Even if they deploy interaction for each threat you’re presenting,
their interactive creatures aren’t a good clock. There’s also the classic
aggro bind, where if you try to get far enough ahead to race their
Baneslayer Angel, they might just cast Supreme Verdict, and if you have
Reflector Mage for it, they might just not draw a creature.
A good example is Hollow One dealing with Humans via Grim Lavamancer and
Engineered Explosives. The issue isn’t those cards, but that Humans must
properly align its threats with those while handling the larger Hollow One
On the Humans side, the best response to your opponent turning their deck
into a mishmash of threats you must handle is just jamming. At most,
identify their best card or two, gear your interaction for that, and lean
hard on the raw power of Champion of the Parish and Thalia’s Lieutenant for
- 4 Noble Hierarch
- 3 Phantasmal Image
- 4 Drogskol Captain
- 4 Reflector Mage
- 4 Spell Queller
- 3 Selfless Spirit
- 4 Mausoleum Wanderer
- 4 Supreme Phantom
Weakness #1: The Mana Accelerant
It’s only natural to compare Bant Spirits to Humans, so I’m not going to
fight it. While Humans is also a deck that is drastically better with a
one-drop, Bant Spirits has an even bigger power delta in the slot.
When you play Humans, it’s often matchup-dependent whether Noble Hierarch,
Aether Vial, or Champion of the Parish is the best card to lead on.
Regardless, if you start with one of those three, it’s going to be a good
With Spirits, that isn’t always the case. The deck is extremely three-drop
centric. If you Mausoleum Wanderer on turn 1, your second turn is often
weak beyond a Supreme Phantasm. If you Aether Vial on turn 1, the same
thing applies and it doesn’t cast Collected Company. You really need that
Noble Hierarch on turn 1 for your raw power starts. Without it, the deck is
really leaning on flying, Spell Queller, or Collected Company being
well-positioned for the matchup.
On the opposing side, that means you really want to Lightning Bolt their
Noble Hierarch as it typically buys you a full bonus turn. That’s the
reverse of Humans, where picking off their real threats is more important.
On the Spirits side, it has me wondering why people moved away from small
numbers of Birds of Paradise. I get that investing a card without the
return of exalted sucks, but so does having clunkfest hands.
Weakness #2: Knowing the Matchup
Bant Spirits has gained a lot of equity because it’s hard to play against.
Flash threats always make people’s brains melt, and powerful sideboard
enchantments do the same to them between games. People should be learning
the deck’s repertoire by now, and they should learning good default
decisions. Humans has stuck around through people changing up to not die to
Meddling Mage, but Spirits doesn’t have the same raw power.
Against Spirits, just know what their and your cards do. Selfless Spirit
makes Terminus important and big combats weird. Few players play
Rattlechains anymore. Four untapped mana presents a few ways to add lots of
power to the battlefield. They will have something like Worship, but few
other non-creatures, so having a way to flexibly answer an enchantment
would be nice. Don’t overload on narrow cards like Destructive Revelry or
Dispel because they’re still almost all creatures.
As the Spirits player, I would be scouring the format for even more
alternative routes to free wins from the sideboard or changing up your
mediocre cards. Is Chameleon Colossus good again? You’re a Collected
Company deck, what’s stopping you from playing Scavenging Ooze or a similar
card? These aren’t necessarily good ideas, but the “optimized” version of
this deck isn’t going to cut it for long.
The single most unique and powerful card in Azorius Control is Terminus.
Any turn with a one-mana sweeper and another spell is back breaking, and
the bottom of library clause handles most of the traditional creature-based
answers to control decks. It can even manage flash threats with a good
Jace, the Mind Sculptor setup.
On the other side of the table, your goal against Azorius Control should be
producing threats that mitigate Terminus. That can be non-creature threats
like Planeswalkers or enchantments, or specific creatures that make
resolving a Terminus problematic. You should also be sequencing your
control-resilient threats in a way to make Terminus less good. Don’t just
run a bunch of Lingering Souls tokens into one sweeper, and maybe keep a
Bloodghast or two in graveyard reserve if you have other attackers.
From the Azorius side, you’re often fine with them handling Terminus as the
rest of your deck still plays. The problem comes on a metagame level as
more and more decks start pressuring you from angles that Terminus is weak
against. Azorius Control is rarely horrible against the metagame at large
but is often made a bad choice because you’re facing a world of 45%
matchups. Herd immunity is a wonderful thing.
Weakness #1: Jund Sucks, Don’t Let Them Line Up
Jund used to be among the most powerful decks in Modern. That was six years
ago. Now basically none of the cards in Jund are among the most powerful
things you can do in Modern.
The only way Jund really consistently beats you is if all their cards line
up well. If you’re having issues with Jund, think about a way to blank one
section of their deck. Removal is obvious, discard is hard, but I think the
underrated one is their creatures. If Tarmogoyf and Scavenging Ooze aren’t
cards you care about, life gets pretty easy.
As a Jund player, make better life choices. Also, don’t hold any of your
cards as sacred and be willing to take them out of your deck if they don’t
line up great. The classic example is cutting Tarmogoyf against Infect so
every card in your deck is interaction or something that finds more
interaction, or Lightning Bolt against a ton of bigger creature decks. Your
sideboard really needs to be full of cards that let you be flexible, and
while it isn’t Jund, the Golgari Midrange deck that finished second in the
Modern StarcityGames.com Las Vegas Classic
is basically the same concept executed really well.
Weakness #1: Attrition and a Clock
It’s weird to say attrition is good against a deck that’s almost totally
non-interactive, but if you can trade cards with Burn, it usually ends
poorly for them. They are pure Philosophy of Fire, exchanging cardboard for
damage. They have few ways to make one card do incremental damage, an
effect often called “a creature.” Outside of doing something totally broken
and winning way faster than Burn can imagine winning, the best plan against
Burn has two steps.
Force as many exchanges of their cards for yours.
Once they’re topdecking, kill them quickly before they draw enough
spells to kill you.
Plan your early turns to kill their creatures as soon as possible.
Immediately take every trade of spells offered. If you run them out of
cards with a buffer of life and something attacking, you’re a massive
favorite to win the game.
As Burn, your goal is to understand how your opponent plans on exchanging
cards and not let them do that.
Read an Emma Handy article or two
. If it’s discard, run your cards out as efficiently as possible. If they
leave up an obvious removal spell, maybe see if your creature can be cast
later. If they have counters, do the traditional wait and overload their
mana plan. If they have a specific lifegain effect, wait on Skullcrack and
force them to end up on the wrong side of the trade.
Weakness #2: Hate that Ignores Skullcrack
Just a reminder these cards exist. Burn’s most powerful answer to hate
cards is Skullcrack, and anything that falls outside that card’s boundaries
really strains Burn’s resources to answer. They don’t have card selection
to find an answer, and if they draw more answers than you draw hate cards,
it’s almost as disastrous as when they don’t have the answer. Being down a
burn spell sucks.
As a Burn player, the best plan is to hope your opponent doesn’t have these
cards. You can re-add the green splash for Destructive Revelry, but
honestly if a bunch of people start showing up with hate like this, your
best plan is to give up the Lava Spikes for a bit. I get that a lot of Burn
players do stuff like register TurnOneLavaSpike dot com to post
tournament reports, but I have a lot of faith that people are capable of
change and good decisions in the long run.
- 4 Street Wraith
- 4 Bloodghast
- 2 Gurmag Angler
- 4 Flamewake Phoenix
- 2 Tasigur, the Golden Fang
- 4 Flameblade Adept
- 4 Hollow One
Weakness #1: Lack of Interaction, Going Bigger
Hollow One is an extremely linear deck. It does its thing and maybe has a
Lightning Bolt to stop your thing. It loses to combo, especially faster and
resilient ones like Ironworks.
But you can’t always play a combo deck. What about playing against Hollow
One with anything else?
Hollow One is a linear deck that does something that isn’t quite massive
and game ending, just quick. It’s fairly easy for its payoff to get
crunched under something bigger. The most direct example of this is a 6/6
Champion of the Parish being game-ending, but there’s a lot of other ways
to get to this gamestate. Even if you just do something simple like Path to
Exile their first 5/5 and double block their Hollow One, a three-toughness
flier blanks the rest of their deck. Don’t try to beat Hollow One with only
removal; beat them with permanents they can’t stop and maybe removal if you
From the Hollow One side, get good at weird math. Weird complicated
combats, sequencing optimally for just a little more speed, holding that
extra land to maybe keep an extra threat after a Goblin Lore. For the
RNG-theme deck, Hollow One is shockingly precision intensive if you want to
play it perfectly.
- 4 Krark-Clan Ironworks
- 2 Pyrite Spellbomb
- 3 Chromatic Sphere
- 4 Mind Stone
- 3 Engineered Explosives
- 4 Terrarion
- 4 Chromatic Star
- 4 Ancient Stirrings
- 4 Mox Opal
- 1 Spine of Ish Sah
- 4 Ichor Wellspring
Weakness #1: Kill Them
I wrote about this a while ago as well, so I’ll keep it brief.
In a long game, Ironworks is very capable of winning through anything. It
takes a dedicated deck to really lock them out. They are also pretty good
at interacting and stopping people trying to race them.
It’s worth a mention that Ironworks is basically the only combo deck that’s
good at interacting. It’s much heavier on card flow than most two-card
combo decks, so it doesn’t suffer from TitanShift issues where you
sometimes draw a Lightning Bolt and it isn’t enough, or sometimes draw two
and it’s way too many. Ironworks takes a much smaller density of cards to
kill than most engine combo decks, so it doesn’t have the Storm issue where
drawing two Lightning Bolts means it takes you multiple extra turns to find
the Desperate Rituals you need to actually go off.
Your best plan against Ironworks is kill them but make them jump through a
hoop to kill you. It takes them considerable time to rebuild if you land a
Spell Pierce at the right time, or for them to find an answer to Leyline of
the Void and go off. Though with Sai, Master Thopterist that last one might
not be the safest any more.
As an Ironworks player, you’re actually pretty well set up to change your
deck in the face of specific issues. Sai, Master Thopterist was a hint that
a big powerful alternate effect can drastically change the dynamic of a ton
- 4 Arcbound Ravager
- 4 Arcbound Worker
- 4 Steel Overseer
- 4 Hangarback Walker
- 1 Metallic Mimic
- 4 Walking Ballista
Weakness #1: It’s Not That Good
Here is where we roll off the good deck bandwagon a bit, and where most of
the rest of the format lies. Hardened Scales is a fine deck that’s
reasonably consistent, but it isn’t a great deck. It’s like Hollow One in
that it’s light on interaction, but it’s less explosive and resilient.
The are many other Modern decks below this line that aren’t offensively
bad, but instead of asking how to beat them before you play something else,
you should be asking what they beat before you play them. Amulet Titan was
that deck for a week because it beat Dredge and was solid against random
midrange and other combo decks.
It’s also very possible a deck in the format exists that’s inherently
powerful and has few weaknesses, but the format as it exists now really
exploits them already. Death’s Shadow is a reminder of what long-term
success and subtle weaknesses can lead to in Modern, where a deck that
dominated the format for months suddenly hit a turning point where people
adjusted to Fatal Push and it faded away with a bunch of bad results for
Regardless, Modern is a format that really rewards you for making informed
decisions for reasons on all axes. It’s reputation for being swingy and
based on lucky matchups really hides a lot of decisions in mulligans,
deckbuilding, and sideboarding that add up over an event. If you want to do
well at a Modern tournament, you can spend a bunch of time mastering a
deck, but you can also spend time mastering the format to make the best
decisions with and against everything.